If even the Olympic Stadium will be ‘recycled’, why is there still so much waste in business?

Out with the old…

The refit of our city centre-based studio was a massive undertaking and the redesign looks fantastic, not least because we commissioned the talents of retail consultant Callum Lumsden who worked with Mary Portas on her recent Secret Shopper series.
We had been told that when the shop fitters came in, anything that we left in the shop would end up in the skip.

In fact the shop fitters were planning to charge us for about two skips in order to chuck all of the wood, counter, furniture and jewellery cabinets into.

I wasn’t too happy about this.
Whilst the cabinets and furniture that we had weren’t right for our new-look studio, there was actually nothing wrong with any of it. I could think of many other people or businesses who would love to have them.

And the thought of perfectly good furniture going into landfill horrified me.

Environmentally there was no way I could handle that kind of waste.

Reduce, reuse, recycle
So, I took snaps of the cabinets and furniture on my iPhone and quickly used the e-bay app to upload them with a clear message that they had to be collected on one specific date or the deal would be off.

I didn’t care if I only got 99p for them – l just wanted to make sure they would be recycled.

It was really easy and in the end three different buyers bought the 18 cabinets at about £55-£100 each, so the cash was handy against the cost of the refit too.
Another plus was meeting the people who bought our chuck-outs.

One had a gym and wanted a few nice cabinets to use in the foyer to display items for sale.

Another was setting up a mobile museum for his huge collection of model cars.

A start up dress shop bought our lovely solid wooden counter too.

How brilliant to think of our furniture going on and being used in such good ways.
So when we had finished the shop was completely empty. The shopfitters breathed a sigh of relief when they came in the next morning – no heavy furniture to move!

And also those two skips and much of the stripping-out time came off our bill.

This time we gained was invaluable later when we realised it prevented a serious overrun.
All this really got me thinking – if refitting just one of my studios created so much waste, what is the scale of waste in the rest of the industry?

I chatted with our own shop fitter about it and also with another local shop fitter. They both said that we would be completely shocked by the amount of waste that goes on when shops are redesigned or change hands and especially by the multiples.

They said it is very rare for somebody to take the time to empty the shop properly and so they always end up trashing furniture, cabinets, railings, shelving – all sorts of things.

These things are almost always in good condition and really shouldn’t be rubbish.

Whilst occasionally the shop fitters take home the odd thing if there is something really good, almost all of it ends up wasted.
Then I started talking to a couple of different exhibition companies and some builders who used to strip out the Ideal Home exhibition.

They said that wastage at exhibitions is even worse. One of them told me that they would regularly go in and strip out beautiful home interiors worth £20 000 or more and just chuck it all in the skip – beautiful baths, kitchens – everything for that ‘show home’ just wasted.
Are there not laws to stop this kind of waste happening?

One of the builders told me that some recycling laws exist for large building projects but that there are lots of circumstances in which these laws don’t apply because the projects aren’t of a large enough scale.

When a retail multiple is refitting a long list of stores, do these laws not apply because each individual unit isn’t big enough to be considered for this? I hope not because even one small shop like mine can easily do more to minimise waste.
I am so incensed by all of this. I work so hard to reduce waste; we reuse our old materials in all kinds of ways (even our off-cuts of the purple ribbon used on our jewellery boxes go to a local nursery for their arts-and-crafts).

And then I hear about all this obscene waste in the refitting and exhibition industries.
But the other thing that really struck me was that surely this is a really good business opportunity, by stripping out all of the recyclable waste before the refit starts and selling it on.

Everyone’s a winner, including the environment.